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by Sean Murphy

23 May 2009

There is a reason the Beatles are considered the greatest band ever. It’s simple, really: they are the greatest band ever. After them, it’s a fair fight for second place, and fans of the Rolling Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and the Kinks can duke it out for eternity. (And that’s just the British bands.) It would not be terribly enjoyable, or edifying, to argue about which band warrants consideration as runners-up, but since the Stones tend to be the ones most often considered just under the Fab Four’s thumbs, how about the Who? Who knows what might have happened if Keith Moon had not kicked off for that great pub in the sky? (Based on what these other bands did, or did not do, after 1980, it’s safe to propose nothing terribly earth shattering was portended.)

But the output from their first decade goes toe-to-toe with any of these other bands’ best work. And if you want to go deep, what tri-fecta can possibly touch Tommy, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia? In terms of albums released in a row, that is a tough list to top. The Stones, of course, came close with Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street (and in terms of the immediate precursors, I would personally rank The Who Sell Out as every bit as good, if not slightly better, than the somewhat overrated Beggar’s Banquet). What else do you got? I wouldn’t fight to the death arguing that Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sgt. Pepper aren’t the most important (if least perfect) consecutive albums to drop in rock history. Of course there is also the entirety of Hendrix’s studio output (while he lived, that is; the good, the bad and the ugly that still spills out of the vaults is a mostly positive mixed blessing), Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold As Love and Electric Ladyland. Fans of the underdogs will get plenty of mileage endorsing The Kinks’ Face to Face,  Something Else by the Kinks and The Village Green Preservation Society.

by Bill Gibron

23 May 2009

Familial dysfunction is the very foundation of independent filmmaking. Without it, wannabe auteurs would have to rely on actual imagination and invention to create their wily no budget wonders. By channeling their own Mom, Pop, and various sibling issues, they can easily crank out the crap and never once have to deal with the actual demands of the artform. But the motion picture needs more than whiny crying whelps wondering why their parents never pampered them to succeed. It mandates more than morose takes on the entire brother/sister rivalry routine to present itself properly. Just ask someone who understands this all too well. On first glance, Dad’s Chicken looks the labored offspring of John Waters and David Lynch. But in the more than capable hands of trailer park troubadour Giuseppe Andrews, it becomes a fascinating free verse free-for-all.

Black Jesus just can’t take it any more. He hates his dying wife and his transsexual son - but not for the reasons you think. She won’t let him obsessively cut coupons, and he/she fetishizes guns to the point of distraction. His other daughter is a dope fiend, and his recently deceased father was an out and out pervert. And don’t even bring up autistic child prodigy Hobie. Desperate to play the violin, the partially blind boy spends his days roaming around the city, instrument in hand and toilet paper tube up to his bad eye. When the youthful talent meets European Ernie, it seems like everything will be all right. He coaches the child, and even suggests someone who might be able to teach him a thing or two. In the meantime, Mom and the sexually confused Shamu build a bomb. With Black Jesus out of the house, they intend to avenge the cultural attacks on religion once and for all.

With its oblique view of the American Dream and a demented approach that takes a standard straightforward storyline and scatters it like crematory ashes to the wind, Giuseppe Andrews’ Dad’s Chicken is social satire as insane stream of consciousness. As a statement, it manages to touch on several solid topics - the role of parents in a child’s life, gun control, autism, sexual perversion and predators, fanaticism, disease, aging, death and religion - without ever overstating its obvious points. This is a complex puzzle box of a film, a movie where scenes and situations happen almost at random. It’s only later, when bits of dialogue fall into place and information is revealed that we understand the relationships involved, the problems at hand, and the potential resolutions in place. During the last ten minutes, we are so wound up in fleshing out the enigma that we barely realize that Andrews has turned the whole thing into a thriller.

This is where the Lynch connection becomes vital. Like the celluloid carnival barker who tuned INLAND EMPIRE and Muholland Dr. into ersatz Hitchcock with his knack for suspense, Andrews uses the unanswered questions as a means of making the audience jumpy. It may all seem demented and disconnected, but when European Ernie provides Hobie with a helping hand, we can’t help but feel that something sinister is afoot. A lot of Dad’s Chicken is like that, from the constant references to violence to the last act fervor of our mother and son/trannie fundamentalists. Desperate times call for desperate actions and Andrews is not afraid to add in desperate individuals as well. There isn’t a single settled member of this miserable family. Each one has their own idiosyncrasies and issues, creating a complicated world of deception, disrespect, and the direst of situational straits.

But beyond the basics, Dad’s Chicken is a coldly calculated statement about present life in these jingoistic United States. Created before Barack Obama changed the political landscape with his populist pull of “Change” and “Hope”, this is George Bush’s ‘Amurika’ gone gangrenous. Under the guidance of God, old ladies build bombs, ready to spread their faith via obvious terrorist threats. In this close-minded world, anyone with gender issues must hide the truth, less they be picked on by the public at large. Even hopelessly untalented Hobie is constantly supported by a social structure that no longer tells people they are less than everyone else. Instead, Dad’s Chicken takes oddities and celebrates them as mediocrity. Indeed, it’s one of the few Andrews films that argues that everything in the U.S. of A. is lameness masquerading as eccentricity.

In one of the rare instance where he applies actual directorial flare, we can see what Giuseppe Andrews would be like with unlimited aesthetic freedom. Someone like Christopher Nolan (creator of the masterful Memento) has nothing on this filmmaker’s psychedelic storytelling. The random jumping around can be disconcerting at first, especially when we don’t have time to get to know all the characters. But then things start falling into place and the true passion of this motion picture Picasso comes through. The one clear concept behind Andrews’ approach is that he stays true to the material. He makes the movie calibrate to the people and the circumstances he is working with. When the style needs to be simple, it is. When it needs to copy the crazy, unhinged nature of the individuals involved in the often surreal stories, he simply shoots from the hip and tells logic to take a flying leap.

Like the artist he most clearly resembles, Giuseppe Andrews takes Jean-Luc Godard’s desire to make “everything” cinema and realizes it over and over again. Dad’s Chicken, for all its cogent contemporary edge, is literally linked to the notion of putting a universe of elements in front of the lens and letting the audience make up the movie as they go along. Success derives not from shot selection of a clear sense of narrative drive. Instead, the cerebral wonder of invoking your own meaning of seemingly silly precepts turns celluloid into literature, prose into poetry, meaninglessness into myth, and finally, the miscreant into the masterful. In a world where film was not marginalized as mainstream product marketed by studio suits into perfectly calculated and focus grouped niches, Giuseppe Andrews would be his own New Wave. Instead, he is a cult survivor reinvigorating the true spirit of independent art. Dad’s Chicken explains his lasting importance all too well.

by Matt White

23 May 2009

The second music video for the second single from the Pet Shop Boys’ latest album Yes. Electro bands are a dime a dozen these days but Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe continue to show they’re still the best at what they do.

by Bill Gibron

22 May 2009

The romantic effort - literary, cinematic, or otherwise - typically gets a raw deal, and with good reason. The story of boy meeting girl, boy wooing girl, girl accepting boy, boy and girl having fun (and perhaps something more), boy and girl breaking it off and then attempting some kind of reconciliation has been the bread and butter for filmmakers, songwriters, and novelists alike. No matter the twists and turns in the paradigm, the formula stays pretty much the same - and that’s part of the problem. Decades of derivative, similarly styled offerings have taken all the heart out of the genre. Even with the occasional narrative twist, the same old stuff happens to a very familiar group of people. Not in Giuseppe Andrews world, of course. The provocateur of the impoverished has taken the moldy old format and shown all wannabe auteurs how to bring the heart - and the humanity - back to the typical couples skate. In Our Garden is the amazing result.

Daisy is devastated. Her boyfriend recently committed suicide in their “garden” - a loving reference to the beach volleyball court where they first met. Unable to find happiness, she’s lost in a world of borderline insanity. One day, police officer Rick stops by her trailer. He is the one who found her dead lover, and hopes he can make a connection with the grieving gal. Sure enough, they become an item, which irks toupee-wearing Bill to no end. He’s the father of the man who killed himself, and he wants Daisy as well. As the suitors maneuver for her affections, our heroine is confused. She has strong feelings for both of them. Then Rick drops a personal bombshell which violates her ever-present trust issues. As Bill moves in, our former cop turns to the bottle, and then crack cocaine. All he wants is a chance to get back into Daisy’s good graces. But unless something happens to Bill, that seems unlikely.

Leave it to the man who singlehandedly rewrote the rulebook on homemade cinema as art to take one of the most tired, derivative narrative archetypes in all of prose and punk it past the point of recognition. Long rumored to be an unflappable masterpiece, In Our Garden is all that - and much, much more. It’s an elegy to love lost, a sonnet to the simple pleasures of finding someone to share your life with. It’s not afraid of the physical and clearly in touch with the spiritual. With a limited cast that includes the sensational Gayle Wells, the brilliant Bill Nowlin, and the always engaging Walt Dongo, Andrews narrows his scope, the result being something overflowing with universal truths and wholly unique insights. Though his actors frequently do little more than read off intricate litanies to scatology and sin, the words paint painful pictures we usually don’t see in such Moon/June sputum.

For Andrews, the entire process of film is about realism - and not just because he uses the actual residents of a trailer park as his creative company. No, what fuels this fascinating artist is his direct connection to what makes people truly what they are. When Daisy explains what the word “crabs” means to her, we initially balk at the disgusting sexual sleaze. But as the monologue continues, we forget the freak show sentiments and start to see the accurate feelings beneath. Andrews is truly a genius of the written word, his scripts like beat poetry set to the tune of scandalous toilet humor frat rap. He’s dirty, but outwardly so, never avoiding a random call out of body parts and positions to keep his audience engaged and entertained. Then, just as we think he can’t get any more revolting, he twists the material to expose the real human emotions underneath.

It helps that In Our Garden offers three of his best double wide DeNiros. Dongo is always reliable, his hound dog haplessness covered nicely by a desire to be direct and honest. Similarly, Nowlin (even in an obviously inebriated state) spits out his anger in tiny little balls of bristling bile. As the man who helped Andrews become the living legend he is, his presence today is sorely missed. But it’s Ms. Wells who steps up and becomes this film’s levelheaded foundation. Having to carry most of the dialogue herself (especially when her co-stars are too tanked up to talk) and also hampered with carrying the conventional parts of the narrative, she delivers a turn so devastating in its poignancy that it’s hard to believe she is merely mimicking Andrews oddball screenplay. There is real genuineness in her elf-eared effigy, something that many Hollywood romances clearly lack.

By following a recognizable story structure (there is none of the William Burroughs inspired cut and paste editing from previous outings here) and letting the characters develop organically, Andrews turns the maudlin and mushy into something quite meaningful. Even a last act rape-reenactment - a bizarre attempt by Bill to win Daisy’s affections - has a symbolic statement to make. In essence, In Our Garden is about the lasting memories of love lost, love found, and love never meant to be. Daisy is clearly longing for some companionship, but it’s unclear if either Rick or Bill can provide it. They both seem so selfish, so insular in their affections that it’s hard to balance their profane poetics with the truth. It’s only after the inevitable break-up, where Rick descends into a horrific drug-fueled Hell (including a surreal stretch with a couple of friendly dealers) that we can see who truly carried the torch.

By including moments of sexual openness, including full frontal nudity and frank reproductive discussions, In Our Garden becomes a complete deconstruction of the foibles present in interpersonal relationships. It doesn’t shy away from the dealing with all aspects of affairs - the joy and the sorrow, the tenderness and the jealousy. By taking a well honed formula and tweaking its tired tenets, he creates yet another amazing statement in his considered creative canon. For someone so prolific to be so diverse in his talent targets speaks volumes for his continued relevance within the medium. Movies about love are a dime a dozen. In Our Garden takes those sentimentalized coins and actually buys something brave and unique. It’s a great, great film.

by Bill Gibron

22 May 2009

Sex in the cinema is always so clean. Even when it’s given a patina of perversion, it’s still played mostly for mild mainstream enjoyment. No film wants to show the truth about interpersonal pyrotechnics, especially in a wholly realistic and authentic manner. Even XXX pornography cleans up the copulation with actors and actresses who fuel the fantasy of, not the facts about, f*cking. But not Giuseppe Andrews. As the king of uber-contemporary cinema, the man who has made the trailer park the last bastion for true motion picture art, screwing around needs to be dirty, disquieting, uncomfortable, and most of all, hilarious. As part of his Bathrobe Homeschool Box Set, The Date Movie delivers on such soiled, sullied dispositions. It proves that physical contact between human beings is not always pretty. In fact, most of the time, it’s downright disgusting.

Two wannabe ‘gansta’ white boys share a trailer - and a case of squirrel-influenced stomach flu. An old man channels the spirit of a horse known as Mr. Ted and writes a hate-filled tome in the steed’s name. Two meth dealers discover a rat in their lab and one adopts it as his very own pet. A young man must face the fact that his mother is a whore and his father is her pimp. A middle aged man must face the fact that his mother is dying of emphysema and losing her marbles. And what do they all have in common, aside from an addictive need to drink the latest alcohol-laced specialty beverage, Pussy Juice? Why, it’s the unending craving for sex and/or sexual fulfillment - and sometimes, not in the way “normal” people view such biological and physiological desires.

Here it is - the Giuseppe Andrews we’ve all grown to love, the Giuseppe Andrews with a pixie like spring in his cinematic step and a thesaurus of lickety lewd crude talk. This ADD inspired journey into the heart of human darkness, a Eisenstein edited romp across shit, piss, and any other bodily fluid you can think of has little or no narrative logic. As he does with his frequently feverish dream, Andrews sets up a group of compelling creeps and lets us watch as they interact, interject, and interfere with each others battered lives. Every once in a while, the implied action will stop so that someone can go off on a several page rant, complete with risqué commandments and horndog demands. Andrews is best known for these dirty word dialectics, juvenile jousts at reproductive served up as satiric stand-up riffs. That they always work is a testament to his talent both behind the camera and in front of the typewriter.

The main theme here is one of longing and desire. Indeed, what The Date Movie seems to be saying about people is that when they aren’t having sex (and there is little actual aardvarking presented here), they’re thinking about it. They’re obsessed with it, allowing its pleasures and pains to influence their entire life. If you look closely, you can see it in the hip hop hokum of the wannabes, trading barbs with ventriloquist dummies as substitutes for actual conversation. You can definitely see it in the meth heads, a lifetime of cooking and snorting drugs leading them to channel their needs elsewhere. And as usual, a very brave (and very naked) Tyree takes us through the daily ritual of a lonely lunatic who doesn’t mind pleasuring himself to anything (and EVERYTHING) he has around the house.

But Andrews also goes for the throat, showing how sex can ruin relationships and compromise trust. One of the first scenes shows a wannabe arguing with a one night stand over their child producing consummation. Later, a son argues frantically with his father over his mother’s profession. In a classic bit of toilet humor burlesque, Walt Dongo plays a husband who can’t get his wife in the sack. Of course, his nonstop flatulence doesn’t help matters much. And then there are moments of sheer heartbreak, as when Tyree picks up a photo of himself from World War II (an actual image, by the way) and the camera stares endlessly at the young face, fresh and ready to take on the world. The Date Movie is indeed centered on sex, but there are also keen insights into aging, mental wellness, and death to be discovered.

Of course, there are also controversial elements that might make the uninitiated cringe. Andrews loves to provoke, and nothing will get the dander up of pro-PC complainers quicker than his use of the N-word. While never aimed at a minority, there are plenty of times in Date Movie when the epithet is spoken - in jest, in anger, for random reactionary shock value. Similarly, full frontal nudity is present and accounted for, and Tyree is the beneficiary of Andrews imposing lens. Watching a naked octogenarian slap his inert “member” with a sticky toy will not be everyone’s cup of cinematic tea, and even for a seasoned Andrews aficionado, the fetish can be much. But this is moviemaking as reality, authentic glimpses of life along the fringes. If you can’t stand the vile visual heat, then perhaps you should get out of this auteur’s soul kitchen ASAP.

This doesn’t infer, however, that everything in Date Movie is magic. Sometimes, Andrews indulges his muse to the point where it pukes up on everything he is trying to accomplish, and as with many of his more surreal outings, a certain scatological wavelength must be maintained less you find yourself feeling filthy - and completely lost - afterward. But if you peer in between the sleazy seams, if you read between the ludicrous lines of halting human misery, you will discover a film of breathtaking insight and wit. As a roadmap to where he would eventually take his incredible talent, The Date Movie is a Hellsapoppin’ journey along life’s many perverted pathways and over its many diseased potholes. Take it for what it’s worth, and you probably will be offended. Look closer and you might just see the sickening truth staring right back at you. Sex is not all rose petals and orgasms. It’s a horrific human endeavor, and only Giuseppe Andrews has the courage to call it out and complain.

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